The Long Game
Progress reports on the games we just can’t quit, featuring a little help from our friends in Stardew Valley
Filling your day in Stardew Valley is easy. Indeed, the sheer variety of this Harvest Moon- a-like has been its greatest asset: between farming, cooking, shopping, fishing, crafting, dungeon-crawling and romancing the townsfolk, there’s always something to quietly cultivate, be it a crop of blueberries or a burgeoning relationship. Two years on from its original release, Eric Barone’s farming sim offers even more to occupy and soothe the frazzled mind.
Alongside ports to various formats, a series of free updates has helped Stardew Valley grow. New items, buildings, community events and character interactions have provided plenty of reasons to revisit your farm. But starting afresh now presents even more options. Now, you can take your pick of five farm types – standard, riverland, forest, hill-top and wilderness – each with their own characteristics. The forest farm might have less space than the standard farm, but its foraging benefits make it simple to earn quick cash early on. The wilderness farm is dangerous for inexperienced players, but old (farm) hands will delight in rare resources in their front yard.
There’s more scope than ever to organise your farm precisely the way you like it, then – which is why the disruptive recent addition of multiplayer is such a stroke of genius. While the mechanics of co-op remain virtually identical to singleplayer, you can invite up to three friends into an existing save by building a cabin on your farm for a small fee. Alternatively, you can start a new co-op save with pre-selected cabins, even altering profit margins to balance out the extra help.
And what a difference it makes. In the early days of singleplayer, our paltry energy meter is exhausted almost immediately; with a partner, we’re a well-oiled machine from the get-go, with the shared labour meaning we’ve got land cleared, crops planted and enough wood to fix the bridge over to the beach by the end of the third day. The pacing is far less frustrating.
Still, the risk of becoming too workmanlike is there: with players sharing resources, not communicating properly can result in some nasty mayonnaise-based disagreements. And afterwards, a moment of clarity – that Stardew Valley has always been about escape, not efficiency, and that anyone yelling at their mates about their parsnip yield may as well pack it up and go work for Joja Corp. A relaxing, hangout-friendly multiplayer mode is a wonderful way, then, to quickly get to the heart of Stardew Valley: a game about not living to work, but working to live, and about filling your days with the things that really matter.